Conor Nolan Reports

Since the closure of Greyfriars Municipal Gallery last year, a quiet revolution has been taking place behind scenes with Waterford’s valuable arts assets.
Following the appointment of Dr Éimear O’Connor as curator for the inaugural exhibition in the new Waterford Gallery, nearly 10 per cent of the collection has been examined and sent out for conservation.

The investment of conservation has seen some of the major works cleaned, tidied, re-stretched, reframed, and generally reinvigorated. But it’s not all about just the surface art. In many cases it’s about the back of the canvas or the panel at the back of the picture and, in other cases, the original frame in which the painting was presented. It’s also about researching the governance of the piece of art that may have been lost in a receipt box or because of earlier attempts at reframing.

The Collection has been described as generally being in quite good condition. However, it has suffered a similar fate to many collections inasmuch as the art needs a programme of regular condition assessments leading to timely and appropriate actions. It needs to be handled and stored in ways that don’t damage the fabric of the art or its complementary surrounds.
A collection as valuable, eclectic and representational of the period in Ireland, as this, needs to have the investment of respect whether it’s for exhibiting, marketing or storing. It is an asset that needs to be handled with kid gloves as it grows in appreciation.

'Les Retrovés', the Dany Lartigue painting, which was recently examined and sent out for conservation by Waterford City & County Council

'Les Retrovés', the Dany Lartigue painting, which was recently examined and sent out for conservation by Waterford City & County Council

Conservation is an art form in itself and because of the standards required to work with a piece of art – it could go through up to four stages. An example in hand would be the Dermod O’Brien painting, ‘My Birthday Presents’ (1923, Oil on canvas). This painting was removed from the frame and cleaned by one conservator, the frame then went to a frame specialist were it was conserved, restructured, re-gold leafed and polished. Because of the nature of the painting and its valuable frame, a special wooden housing was also built for it for future storing. Other pieces that have gone through similar processes include the Dany Lartigue painting ‘Les Retrouvés’ (1944, Oil on canvas) Seán Keating’s ‘Captain Consadine’ (n.d. Pastel on paper), Geraldine O’Brien’s ‘Bella Donna Lilies’ (1949, Oil on canvas) to name a few.
Waterford City and County Council’s recent Art Audit makes a priority for correct storage and recording and registering of this valuable collection.

It’s imperative that we have a collection that’s worthy of passing on to our children and their children. We are only really guardians of their art and we must ensure that we treat this gift with the reverence it deserves. This art is not just for the now – it’s for all the future ‘nows’
The conservation programme though doesn’t stop with the work on the individual pieces. Training will shortly be taking place in handling, hanging and storing. Indeed, a new temporary storage facility has been built in the new Gallery featuring international standard art racks, walls and flooring. Plans for the future include the complete renovation of the Collection’s general storage area and the full conservation of the entire collection.

The new Waterford Arts Gallery is expected to open in Waterford’s Cultural Quarter mid July.

Conor Nolan is Arts Officer of Waterford City & County Council

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